Trust is something that can be very difficult to put your finger on. It is hard to define, and sometimes when it isn’t there, you aren’t entirely sure why.

In a family business context, trust is something that can take on an even more important role than elsewhere. Due to the complex nature of the beast, where traditional company relationships are intertwined with personal family history, trust issues can develop in many areas.

This week I came across an interview with Peter Leach, a family business consultant from the UK, in which he talks about respect and trust in the family business realm. I really liked that last couple of minutes of it, where he broke trust down into 3 main elements.

He credits Barbara Misztal, a respected author on the subject, for her work in analyzing how and where trust can fall apart. The three elements, ALL of which MUST be present for trust to exist, are: Sincerity, Reliability, and Competence.

Sincerity is all about doing things for the right reason, and caring about what you do. Reliability is doing what you said you were going to do, when you said you were going to do it. And competence is doing your job properly and at an acceptable quality level.

The absence of any one of these elements can lead to trust problems.

In new realtionships, it is often difficult to detect sincerity issues, since they can be concealed for a time. Sometimes that used car salesman can seem a little too smooth. But when it is someone in your family, you usually have a good idea of the sincerity component.

When reliability is absent, you have a person who has their heart in the right place, they are good at what they do, but they just can’t seem to deliver on time with any regularity. It’s easy to be disappointed in these situations, because you know the person cares and can do it, but the follow-through just isn’t there.

When competence is absent, you have a caring person who is trying and getting things done, but the things they do just aren’t good enough.

Segmenting trust into these three components becomes useful in situations like that of my headline, where you have trouble putting your finger on “why” there is a lack of trust.

People who work with family businesses often hear stories about various family business members who have trust issues with others in the family. When you take the time to look at the three areas outlined above, often one of the three elements becomes the clear culprit as the main source of the issue.

Once the source of the mistrust has been identified, it becomes easier to work on that element to improve the situation.

If competence is lacking, maybe more training or mentoring can help, or it could just sort itself out with time and experience.

If reliability is lacking, helping the person get and stay organized could be helpful in overcoming the issue. Or maybe just informing the person that their reliability is severely impacting their trustworthyness can do the trick.

When sincerity is lacking, you probably have a bigger problem. It can be hard to make someone care if they are at the point where they clearly don’t. Or if they are cutting corners and trying to fly under the radar and take the easy way out, those situations are not as easily remedied.

Problems of trust are not easy to overcome, but by taking the time to break things down into these three elements, at least you can figure out where you should start. Good luck.

Steve Legler “gets” business families.
He understands the issues that families face, as well as how each family member sees things from their own viewpoint.
He specializes in helping business families navigate the difficult areas where the family and the business overlap, by listening to each person’s concerns and ideas.  He then helps the family work together to bridge gaps by building common goals, based on their shared values and vision.
His background in family business, his experience running his own family office, along with his education and training in coaching, facilitation, and mediation, make him uniquely suited to the role of advising business families and families of wealth.
He is the author of Shift your Family Business (2014), he received his MBA from the Richard  Ivey School of Business (UWO, 1991), is a CFA Charterholder (CFA Institute, 2002), a Family Enterprise Advisor (IFEA 2014), and has received the ACFBA and CFWA accreditations (Family Firm Institute 2014-2015).
He prides himself on his ability to help families create the harmony they need to support the legacy they want. To learn how, start by signing up for his monthly newsletter and weekly blogs here.